How a classroom looks and feels is an important part of building an equitable, safe, and respectful learning environment. Incorporating as many school resources and materials that reflect back the student body as possible reminds students every day that they belong and increases feelings of community in the classroom. Advocating for students and implementing bullyproof practices in the classroom will create opportunities for safety, kindness, and mutual respect.
All People Deserve Respect, Safety, and Equal Opportunity
As educators, we hope to create a communal space where students can learn, dream, and grow into the people they want to be. Oftentimes, it is not that simple. Students are constantly learning in and out of the classroom, and although it’s not possible to protect students at all times, creating a safe, respectful, and equitable learning environment is the place to start.
Treating Others With Respect
Not only do teachers and school administrators take on the role of providing learners with an education, but often they are much more than that—mentors, personal heroes, stand-in parents, and confidants. With so many expectations, this can become overwhelming. To help prevent teacher burnout as well as preserve student-teacher relationships, it’s important to maintain goals that lead with respect. Create outlines and plans for bullying when unsafe conditions arise in the classroom, and always model leading with kindness, humanity, and empathy. When social and emotional learning tools are utilized, a classroom becomes a safer and more productive space for academic achievement (Lee & Riordan, 2018).
Consider where bullying “hot spots” may arise—in hallways, on the playground, or in other areas that may have less supervision. Research shows that one out of every five students is bullied, and 41% think it will happen again (Seldin & Yanez, 2019). Create a positive school environment that fosters belonging and inclusion so that students can feel supported after an incident occurs. Prioritizing cognitive empathy and positive language as in “what to do” versus “what not to do” will create a classroom that is more likely to stay a bullyproof zone.
Creating An Equitable Environment
Fostering cooperation, autonomy, and student voice helps create a more equitable and successful classroom (Cohn-Vargas & Steele, 2015). When educators take a step back and focus on student-led conversations, it improves both student teacher-relationships, as well as their intrinsic motivation to learn and retain information. As student conversations and goals progress, notice who is being left out of the conversation. Challenge and guide students to collaborate and work in groups to reflect together, in order for everyone to feel seen and heard. With collaborative and supportive goal setting, self-efficacy improves, reminding students of their unique talents and aspirations. This creates equal opportunities for students to share their wants and practice the importance of listening to and uplifting others (Cohn-Vargas & Steele, 2015).
How a classroom looks and feels is an important part of building an equitable learning environment. Incorporating as many school resources and materials that reflect the student body as possible will remind students every day that they belong and increase feelings of community in the classroom (Bowen, 2021). If an incident occurs, students should know that they can trust their educators to advocate for them. Creating classroom rules collaboratively gives students increased autonomy and actionable ways to support each other. As educators listen, guide, and uphold rules that were created as a team, they are more likely to gain insight on how to provide safe, additional support.
Confronting COVID-19 Related Bullying
All over the U.S., Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI) have reported increased harassment and racialization of identity, ancestry, and language during the COVID-19 pandemic (StopBullying.gov, 2017). More than 9,000 incidents of harassment have been reported to Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition that began collecting data on targeted racial attacks since the pandemic began (Associated Press, 2021). Putting a stop to these unfounded fears and attacks on the AAPI community involves educators centering kindness, respect, and inclusion as well as careful observation of their students in the classroom. Finding opportunities to bring members from the community into the classroom for discussions, leading with positive language, and prioritizing representation in classroom materials contributes to increased belonging, positive self-image, and respect for differences (Bowen, 2021).
A safer learning environment is created by cultivating a heightened awareness of this increase in racial stereotyping, while protecting students with open and collaborative discussions of how to respect others and lead with kindness. Research shows that students of color are more likely to experience bias and bullying because of their race/ethnicity, language, or physical appearance (National Center for Education Statistics, 2019). It’s important to document instances of racially charged bullying, and report them as necessary. In 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights released a joint statement that gives additional resources in multiple languages on how to protect students when faced with COVID-19-related bullying.
Teachers that lead with kindness and respect in the classroom show students that they can trust them. Creating a safe environment requires the help of everyone in a school community, from parents to teachers and school bus drivers. Each person plays a critical role in ensuring students are advocated for, protected, and free to learn.
Associated Press. (2021, August 12). More than 9,000 Anti-Asian incidents have been reported since the pandemic began. NPR online. https://www.npr.org/2021/08/12/1027236499/anti-asian-hate-crimes-assaults-pandemic-incidents-aapi
Bowen, J. (2021, October 21). Why is it important for students to feel a sense of belonging at school? ‘Students choose to be in environments that make them feel a sense of fit,’ says associate professor, DeLeon Gray. NC State University College of Education News. https://ced.ncsu.edu/news/2021/10/21/why-is-it-important-for-students-to-feel-a-sense-of-belonging-at-school-students-choose-to-be-in-environments-that-make-them-feel-a-sense-of-fit-says-associate-professor-deleon-gra/
Cohn-Vargas, B. & Steele, D. M., (2015, October 21). Creating an identity-safe classroom. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/blog/creating-an-identity-safe-classroom-becki-cohn-vargas-dorothy-steele
Lee, A., & Riordan, M. (2018, August 15). Equity and voice: How a sense of belonging promotes student agency. EducationWeek. https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/opinion-equity-and-voice-how-a-sense-of-belonging-promotes-students-agency/2018/08
Seldin, M., & Yanez, C. (2019). Student reports of bullying: Results from the 2017 school crime supplement to the national crime victimization survey. National Center for Education Statistics. https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2019/2019054.pdf
U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, & U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights. (2021). Confronting COVID-19-related harassment in schools: A resource for families [Fact sheet]. https://www.justice.gov/crt/page/file/1392041/download
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2017) How to Prevent Bullying: Build a Safe Environment, https://www.stopbullying.gov/prevention/build-safe-environment
Zalaznick, M. (2020, July 31). SEL priority: Students must feel safe before they can learn. District Administration. https://districtadministration.com/sel-social-emotional-learning-professional-development-pd-naperville-school-district/